Story by Stripe, D27Mo5Y1999
Stripe was a shadow of his former self. Thin and pale with dark circles under his eyes. No one has seen him eat or sleep for days. He seemed to be as bad as Thull if not worse finding no joy in life.... at least Thull would eat. Named for the bands of color encircling his head, chest and arms, Stripe would aimlessly wander around as if searching for something at all hours, day or night.
Needless to say, the others were worried about their brother, so much so that it was brought to Hoborg's attention. Something this serious had to be delt with delicately.
Stripe slowly entered the throneroom. Being one for etiquette he knelt, head bowed.
"You sent for me father?" he asked weakly.
The king's rich mellow voice was a sharp contrast, "Stripe?....Is that YOU?! What's wrong, son?!"
Hoborg sat forward, obviously concerned.
"I'm sorry, father........ I didn't mean to upset anyone, I just have a lot on my mind."
He would've stood up then,but that would take energy......
Hoborg picked up a small bowl of fruit he had next to the throne and carried it to his son.
"Here, please eat something." He helped him to a bench against the wall.
Stripe ate, giving no notice to his hunger or the sweet fruit.
"Can you talk about it?"
Stripe sighed as he asked: "Father...... I can only imagine..... but..... do you remember how you felt after you created this world? I think I feel like that..... incomplete, like something is missing." He took another fruit but didn't eat it.
The king put his arm around his son, "I don't know what I can do to help you... hmmmmm.... maybe you're trying TOO hard to find whatever it is? Why don't you go and get some sleep, maybe things will be different then?"
Stripe looked up and smiled faintly, "I'll try, thanks father." He took two more fruits from the bowl and ate as he walked home.
Awake and refreshed, Stripe still felt like he was only half of something.... No! Today he won't think about it, he'd just have fun!
He tried..... but lacking interest in anything he lost himself in his thoughts, and just walked, not careing where he went............. It was the lack of sound that made him become aware of his surroundings.
"Where.....?......Uh oh....." This was not a healthy place to be.... and it was early evening........!
Hoborg had made a mountain range along this edge in the hopes to discourage weasels, but when the land came together again , a crack and some loose stones made a ragged hole in the wall.... claw tracks were everywhere.....!
Everything in Stripe screamed *RUN!*.... but this was something new! He would check it out quickly, then go and report this......
At the entrance, the sudden sound made him freeze, glancing around for possible escape routs he stood listening..... it took a while for him to realize that he had stopped breathing. Heart pounding he moved in further.
That wasn't a weasel's attack howl or hunting cry, it certainly wasn't loud enough! A faint scrabbeling brought him around a boulder at the other side of the hole.
SOMETHING had happened here! The ground was tore up, some fwasheep bits, as well as weasel were scattered about.... a food dispute......
A moving pile of stones caught his eye.
"Redish stones that move?" Curiousity overcame caution. He crouched by the stone...... then a pair of eyes popped up and both Stripe and the stone screamed!!
A BABY WEASEL!!!! It squawked and struggled to get away from this "loud two-legged thing". It was then that Stripe noticed that it was caught. In the battle, the adults had knocked rocks loose pinning the baby, surely the parent would've freed one so small.... unless....
He studied the nearby pieces... yes, a few were redish.... others greenish. The baby tried to make itself smaller.
"It must have been here for a few days..."
The little monster cringed as he reached towards it.... no, not a monster, a frightened helpless orphan (wel, possibly an orphan). He glanced around in case its parent returned.
"Don't worry, little one, I won't hurt you." He pulled rubble away and rolled the rock off its leg. "There you go."
It wobbled, fell, then pulled itself towards some fawsheep piece nearby, it tried..... too weak, it fell and lay panting. Without a second thought, Stripe got the piece and gave it to the baby, then another, and another....
It ate slowly..... good, now to get outta here!
He tiptoed away. Night was comming, the adult crabs would be roaming soon. He walked faster.
Looking around, the baby realized it was alone again. A sad high pitched wail caught Stripe's ears, he was still within sight of the tunnel, 'It'll be O.K., won't it? The grown weasels wouldn't hurt it, would they? The green one that fought its parent didn't hurt it........ but ..... it didn't help it either......(!)'
The lonely howling sounded again as the baby stood at the entrance. Stripe went back.
It wobbled, holding its injured leg up... still unsure it wimpered.
"Poor thing", he crouched and gently patted it. "See?... It's O.K. now", he crooned.
It stepped closer, shivering as a cold evening breeze went by. Half of knee high, it made a small bundle in his arms as he gathered it up.
"Here we go, you'll be fine once I get Gnimen to look at your leg."
At home, he took an extra blanket and formed a nest on the floor by his bed and put his new charge in it. After carefully getting comfortable, a bowl of water was lapped up, then another. A blanket to cover, and a very tired weaseling hummed itself to sleep.
Stripe had trouble breathing as if a weight was on his chest.... he opened his eyes to see another pair backed by a mouthfull of teeth! His yell sent the baby tumbeling to the foot of the bed in a squawking tangle of legs.
"Oh", he breathed heavily, "I'm sorry."
He brought it up along side him as he sat on the edge of the bed. The leg looked swollen now.
"Let's get you fed." Fishing in his chest compartment, he pulled out a box of dried weasel meat.
"Uh, do weasels hunt their own kind?" he thought, watching the little one inspect his open chest..... Another box was removed..... Dried fruit.
"Go on, try it."
A small piece was chewed.... then a tri-jawed mouth yawned open for more! He DID have to pull his hand out of danger a few times.... but no real damage was done. The fruit box was half empty before it got some water, and started to explore.
'Now how am I going to get you out of here without everyone noticing it?.... Hmmmmmmm....'
The baby limped back in to the blanket nest and folded up its legs.....
'How small it is........ How small it IS!... Hmmmmmmm... I could carry you in.... what?... A box? Basket?.... The blanket? No.........'
He put the box back..... 'HMMMMMMMM!!' he thought, looking at his open chest and the baby, and back... 'YES !'
A pile formed on the table as Stripe emptied out his chest compartment (except for the fruit box).
"Up we go."
Legs still tucked in, it waited on the bed while the blanket was arranged inside.
"You'll be fine, just going for a walk."
It yawned, stretched, then settled down in the warm darkness. Chuckeling, Stripe thought, 'Not even Rem would believe this!!'
His brothers were happy to see how much better he looked! Amid hugs and hellos, he made his way to the radio room.
"GNIMEN!..... Are you here?" he called, once the door closed.
"No need to shout, come on in..." Upon seeing that it was Stripe Gnimen smiled, "Well, look who's back! Glad to see you're better now..... Are you?" he asked good humoredly.
"Yes and no." Stripe couldn't find the right words.
"Huh?... What do you mean?"
"Well....... uh......... see,I was......." he stammered, then taking a deep breath he said, "First, I want you to promise me you won't panic."
"Why would I panic?"
"Just promise." He moved to a workbench free of breakables, opened his chest and pulled out the blanket.
"All this fuss over a blanket? I don't ....." Gnimen caught sight of redish claws poking up from the folds, ".....believe it!" he breathed in a whisper. He moved closer.
"How?....... Where?" Gni wanted to ask several questions at once as he quietly examined the weaseling, almost forgetting that Stripe was there. He started to write notes.
"The Dark Edge, its leg was pinned under a rock. I think its parent and another had fought over a fawheep....... I couldn't just leave it there, even if it IS a weasel!"
Gnimen took down a box and pulled out some cloth strips and a jar of some kind of paste looking stuff. He carefully applied the paste and gently began wrapping the leg, amazed that the baby put up with this unusual treatment.
"Yes, I would've done the same thing", he said as he carefully made sure the tiny pieces of the shell of the leg lined up precisely... he added more cloth making it secure.
"It's good you brought it in, I've seen such injuries and worse either heal wrong or not at all. this one has a little better chance now."
Trimming off the cloth, he went to a shelf of bottles and studied the various colored liquids.
"How can you help it?.... I mean, if anyone could, you can.... but how?"
"By trying a theory I've had since Doodles brought me the weasel juice......... AHA!" he said triumphantly, plucking out a bottle of green liquid. A small mixing bowl made a perfect watering dish as a few drops of improved juice was measured into the water and stirred. Unable to resist, the baby drank it down, licking the dish.
"Well?" asked Stripe after a moment.
"All we can do is wait. It should take a few days and I'll give it some more tomorrow if it hasn't already started to heal."
He turned to Stripe. "You can't keep it, you know."
"Yeah, but it needed help........"
"You say the adult may be........?"
"I saw lots of shell pieces, green as well as redish, maybe it was too hurt?"
Gni stopped writing. "One thing is for sure, NOW is when it will need to learn to hunt. A hand fed weasel full grown is a danger."
"So we need to find another crab?" Stripe asked, starting to worry, unsure now if he did the baby a favor.
The baby was wobbling about. Still favoring the one leg, Gni reached to get his papers and was confronted by a demanding little beast, full openmouthed threat, snapping when his hand came near! "What's wrong?"
Stripe came over, the baby turned, still poised, still standing on Gni's papers.
"I think I know what's wrong," he reached into his compartment, "No, can't be hungry yet..." He reached further back..... "Yes." He pulled out a ball and tossed it to the gargling creature. The ball was caught and chewed on instantly amid rough growling.
"Hmmmm....." said Gni, "...... Must still have some teeth developing." He rescued his precious notes from the sharp foot claws and began writing. "As I was saying, it takes a weasel to teach a weasel.... if it is to survive and not be a problem for us. A hand fed weasel full grown is a danger."
"So what do we do?" Stripe was getting a bit uneasy.
"First, I have to go over a few things you'll need to know........."
"....... Then, when the leg is better......." Gni turned and held up the weasel juice looking at Stripe..... whose eyes bulged as Gni's suggestion sank in.
"OOOOoooooohhhhhhhhh NO!! NO no no no no no, Not A Chance!!" He backed away, arms outstretched.... "Uh...." he thought quickly... "Er.... What about Doodles? He did this before!"
"Oh, come on now, do you really think DOODLES would go through this AGAIN?! Besides, it should be someone the baby trusts......you. And since this is a perfect chance for further research..... I'll be joining you." Gni looked closely at the liquid. "Should be JUST enough for the two of us.." he mumbled to himself.
"To study their behavior first hand, don't worry, I'll coach you before we change."
There was no way out of it. "I DID accept responsibility..... didn't I ?"
"Bring it back tomorrow and we'll start planning... the sooner it's able to fend for itself...
A gooey ball bounced off the back of Gnimen's head! He turned to see the weaseling sort of hopping, open mouthed, waiting for him to toss the ball back.
He couldn't get mad at something like that. Wiping off the drool he finished, "...the better."
It hadn't been easy keeping something like this a secret, especially when someone once played the musicbox...... as he was walking within hearing of it!.......... And a confined weasel was nervously squirming in his chest compartment......!!
"What'll I DO?" He panicked as the music reached the last few notes.......!
*klink klink.... klink klink.... kling kling klinnng kling... klink*
The squirming got uncomfortable! Quickly he ran to a spot where no one was near, opened his chest enough to keep the frantic creature from getting out and sang "POP! Goes the WEASeeeeeelllllllllll!"
His passanger calmed down quickly and settled in to wait to be let out again.
*WHEW!*.......... That was too close!!
However, he couldn't help feeling a little sad when a resounding *BOOM!* rolled out of the plains.
Stripe's main room looked like a playroom. At Gni's suggestion, he had suspended a cord from the ceiling, and the little Red slowly developed a skill for climbing....... it would pounce on Stripe when given the chance!.... And it had a box that Stripe had cut holes and slits in. Putting fruit in, it would be locked tight, forcing the baby to use its claws to pick and move the fruit so it could be eaten piece by piece through the holes.
Other objects were there to be chewed on to develop jaw strength..... abilities it would need later. It took a few more days before Gni declaired the leg fit, saying the juice proved his theory that weasels would drink some when injured or ill. As the bandages came off for the last time, Stripe had been thinking.....
"Gni?...... I feel we should include Manies in this....... As a Just-In-Case."
"Hmmmmm. That might not be a bad idea."
"Good, I asked him to meet us here."
Gni smiled and gave him a "I should have known" look , and set the not-so-little weasel on the floor. (Stripe tossed the ball for it... thus occupied, it would leave other stuff alone) It scurried with amazing speed under the table,around and into the BOBBY machine.
"Hello? Hi everyone! So... what did you want to talk to me about?" Manies came down the stairs. "And why here?"
"We have a...... situation......" began Gnimen.
"And we thought we should include you." finished Stripe.
"Ok... so what is..."
The sneak attack lept from the BOBBY machine, knocking Manies' legs out from under him! Sitting down hard, he found himself pinned under a small weasel!
"AAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!" Yelling, he fumbeled for his back pack!
"NO!" - "You Can't!" Gni stopped Manies while Stripe rescued the supposed attacker!
"Wha...... What?...... How?" Manies stammered, breathing hard.
As they explained, he relaxed, never taking his eyes off the weaseling.
"So, why do you need me?" he asked.
"Because Stripe and I will be weasels and you can protect us from everyone else." A pile of papers suddenly filled Manies' arms! "And take notes for me."
"Look, this is research, if I don't...."
"What do you mean, *I*?"
Stripe huffed....... "WE don't do it, who will?"
Manies thought. "Hmmmmm.... this COULD prove interesting........!" He smiled, "So when do we start?"
"We'll go before daylight tomorrow, you'll need to get supplies and meet us at the Dark Edge, I'll leave a note in case someone worries. Oh, Manies, here..." Two brightly colored cloth stripes were draped around his neck.
"What are these for?" He asked, trying to balance the papers.
"We're going to be in weasel form quite a while...."
"What do you mean, *quite a while*?!" Stripe was really starting to worry now.......
Gni continued, "You tie those on us when we change so you can tell us from other weasels if we get seperated."
The baby tried to catch the dangeling cloth ends....
"Manies, I want you to know how much I appreciate you doing this for us."
"It's my pleasure," he answered, his grin getting bigger.... "Besides, I wouldn't miss THIS for anything!"
"Try not to enjoy yourself too much." Stripe wasn't too keen on the fact that Manies would never let him live THIS down.... and when Rem hears about it.....! Stripe groaned.
"I'll get what I need, see you there..... as soon as SOMEONE lets me go." The cloth ends had been firmly caught in tiny teeth!
Gni had decided it would be best if Stripe and his charge slept in the radio room, and he was now trying to wake his guests.....
"Hey, it's time. Get up, you two!"
"Ok, we're up, *yawn*, do we have everything?" He stretched.
"Yes, double checked, here, breakfast, we eat on the way."
Chip Butties and fruit were eaten as they sneaked through the common grounds. It took longer in the dark to get there, but soon.........
"Hey, over here!" Manies whispered loudly and waved from some rocks.
They stood in a circle, Stripe and Gnimen had both emptied their chest compartments, but Gni now brought out two small bottles. There was no turning back now.
"Gni, I know you told me what effects this will have......."
"Don't worry, according to Doodles, you'll feel some discomfort, then warm... it shouldn't last too long. Then you sleep. It will be tricky at first getting used to the new body, but things will come naturally for us after a while. Remember, you won't be alone in this."
"I'll be here, too. " said Manies.
"Thanks, both of you.... Well...... let's do it."
The bottles were opened.... Mmmmm, it smelled rather good.....
*Good riddance*, thought Gnimen as they both drank the last of the existing mutagen.
Doodles was right! It tasted even BETTER! Stripe was kinda sad when he finished his..... then.... deep inside, a warmth began to swell and spread out....... "I hope it won't take too long to change, and the warm feeling is kinda nice.......... warm......................................"
"Hey, get up! It's daylight!"
Stripe opened one eye...... 'Was that me?' he thought. He opened the other eye to see a white weasel with a bright colored cloth firmly tied to..... what would be its upper arm. Gni was just getting the hang of standing.
Stripe leaned and stuck a leg out... Oh that's right, got more to deal with now.....
The baby wasn't sure about these two new ones, where were the two legged ones? These ones smelled familar so it decided to stay. It was still nervous watching these two try and stand.
A while later it saw them walking. After Manies tied on Stripe's cloth the three entered the tunnel, Manies would be waiting by the rocks. On the other side, the not-so-little one wimpered a bit.... It remembered what happened, but stayed close to its "new" adults.
Stripe was taking in as much as possible with his now limited sight, and had started crawling over the edge before he realised it!
'Wow! I knew weasels were good climbers, but I never knew HOW good!' Stripe thought as they explored the "side" of the Neverhood.... (at least that small section)
Heading topside, they came up in a different area and found some fawsheep! The eager young one skuttled forward and was stopped instantly by a pair of claws blocking its path.
Stripe scratched the ground... *cHAsE?*
*No, gO BY RoCks ....WAiT* and Gnimen bellied down.
The two followed his example. Not too long afterwards, one fawsheep strayed closer....
Still in HUNT vision, Stripe saw Gni launch himself forwards and engulf the fawsheep in one fluid movement! The others stampeaded to safety.
Still swallowing, Gni scratched *U C?... U tRy.*
The three went back over the edge and came up behind a ridge. They crept around and climbed up till they were peeking over the edge at the herd below.
Before either knew it, the young one had launched itself, landed, charged and engulfed a halfgrown fawsheep! The herd bolted again, and the weaseling thrummed as it continued swallowing.
Stripe climbed down... it was his turn. He was hungry, but wasn't sure about eating a whole fawsheep!
They stalked the herd, quietly moving from rock to shadow, at a bend he crouched and waited.... it didn't take long..... He was up, and didn't realize what he was about to do till his jaws clamped shut!
'Willie didn't call them "squish sheep" for nothing!' he thought as he trotted over to Gni. He had to swallow several times before he could open his mouth again, but the taste wasn't too bad after all, and he was sated for now.
*Wow GoOD!* he scratched.
*GO...... mAnieS..... pLAiNs* Gni scratched his reply.
Not understanding, he followed Gni back the way they had come, the little red staying close.
*GRROoowwllll!!* [Oops, sorry Manies, I forgot!]
Manies was sunning on a boulder when Stripe roared, sending him down and into a niche, boom stick ready.
"Oh, it's you three! WHEW! OK Gnimen, ready for notes."
"Oh, OK, I see...." Manies, not one to let an opportunity go by asked, "Uh... could I have a ride?"
[Sure pal] and Gni collapsed for him. Then to Stripe *HuRRy*
Around rocks and over ground they made their way to the plains. Once there, Gni pointed to the ridge top.
But as they started up, Stripe stopped him and scratched *wHY HurrY?*
*mAY B seEN....... MUsiC BOx!*
[Thats RIGHT! I forgot!!]
They were near the top and on a small ledge, so Manies got down. Stripe waved to get his attention.
"What is it, Stripe?"
And Manies read... "If musicbox is played.... sing. Sing?"
"Finish song for us. What? Ooohhhh, and that will keep you from going wild?"
"Ok, so, I guess I'd better hide, but there really isn't any rocks up here big enough....." he looked around. "Ahh, I'll be in there."
And Manies went to hide himself in a patch of thick curly branched bushes.
They looked around the ridge top. Since Big Brother Klaymen had fired the cannon and blocked the hole in the canyon wall, a very nice pond had formed once again.
*BE..... RocKS....... WaTCh.* Then Gnimen walked into the water and vanished under the surface.
*Arrriiiik,.... GRrrrrrraaaa?* The little one looked up at its "former two legged" weasel parent.
[let's see.... can't talk... a growl doesn't seem right.... how about......] *Hrrrrruuuuuuffffff*
The baby settled down beside Stripe and waited.
He nudged the growing creature gently and turned to watch the pond.
*Gni is right*, he thought, *the juice MUST help it to grow as well as heal..... what had he said?...... "Territories are kept by those stronger, or clever enough to take over an area from another. This way the weasel has ready access to food and water"...... Sure the horrible beasts were created by First Brother Klogg, but they've become a part of the NeverHood's animal life.... and boomed weasel DID taste good...... NO! How could I think such a thing now?*
His thoughts were interrupted by a small flock of KlayBirds gliding in to land on and around the two new "stones". They drank and floated on the water while a few scratched around the water's edge.
Stripe s-l-l-l-o-o-o-w-w-w-l-l-l-y-y-y opened his bottom jaw, the young one did the same. Amid "awking" and pecking, one came close and hopped onto a big pink tongue.
'Peckpeckpeck' *OWOWOW!!* His eyes teared, but he controlled himself and carefully rolled his tongue pushing the Klaybird in, and quietly clamping his jaws shut before a warning "awk" could be voiced.
*There's GOT to be a better way!.... My poor tongue feels like it has holes in it now!*
Noticing three or four birds floating on the water, he remembered that Gni was still below.
At the bottom, gripping the rocks against the current Gni saw the birds on the surface........!
Stripe watched the birds...... looked around... and when he looked back they were gone!
*Wow, he's gotta show me that trick!* A pair of eyes and a claw tip emerged and pointed to the little red......
*Ah,.. Gni will teach it how to water-hunt first.... THEN me.*
A tap with a claw and it swallowed the bird it caught, then quietly made it into the water.... The birds still pecked and splashed in the shallows. Catching a few more, Stripe began to enjoy the area. The soft sound of the water was very soothing.
*Mmmmm, rather tasty..... It's nice here too............ warm.............. peaceful............. ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz........................................
A wall of water hit him full in the face!
*!!COLD!!* He shouted, but it came out as a gargled bark!
*Snerf snerf snerf!* Only two pairs of eyes could be seen.
*Oh YEA?!* Stripe was up and the two tumbled back into the water! The weaseling just watched the antics of the adults. After some good natured poking and mouth-threats, Stripe grabbed on to some stones and enjoyed the weightlessness.
*WOW this is GREAT once you get used to it!* Gni DID know how to have fun once in a while. *Wish Manies could enjoy this.*
His eyes suddenly got big and he roared underwater, the surface boiling above him! *MANIES!* He forgot! Other crabs drink here, too, and they've left him unprotected!!
He surged out of the pond, water scattering the few birds brave enough to return after the "water battle"! He frantically ran to the bushes and began to search.....*Eeeerrrrrrrrkkkkkkk!* *Nerrrrrraaaakkkk?*
"Oh, you're out? Yes I'm fine, careful you'll bruise me."
*Whew, thank Quater, you're okay!* Stripe calmed himself and kept watch.
Gni skuttled up. *scratchscratch* "Ready for notes".....
And thus sat Gni and Manies for the remainder of the daylight.
And the next several days passed, hunting and teaching the ever growing Red (who was now as tall as Manies). Well, Gni taught Stripe and he, acting as "parent", showed the young one..... who caught on quickly and proved very inventive with its sneak attacks!
In spite of a few encounters with other weasels, all went pretty well. And they finally trained it to avoid or run from people. Manies kept a good distance from them, but the curious red would wander over, wanting to "check out" this little two legged thing. People facinated the red! Several times Stripe had to get between them and, protectively growling at Manies, he ushered the red to a safe distance. *Sorry Manies...it has to be done*
Manies naturally understood.
Another week or two and the red would range by itself, its successful (though not always) hunting attempts being witnessed by a pair of very proud weasels!
Then one day, Stripe, Gni and Manies hadn't realised how close to the plains they had been, (normally avoiding the place, thus avoiding people) when a breeze brought a VERY tempting smell over the ridge......
Manies breathed deeply. "MMMMmmmmmm......... Chip Buttys!! Must be a picnic near by..... Oops! Sorry guys, I bet you really miss chip buttys!"
"Me too.... But we'll have to wait......"
Everyone froze! The bellow came from the plains, and was immediately followed by several weaker yells! All three peeked over the ridge top.
Below, a big green weasel had decided to "look into" the goings on and was making a mess of the area! It obviously wasn't hunting or curious, just being a menace. It had several Hoodians cornered in a niche, not attacking them, but not letting them pass......!
Stripe saw all this through his hunt sight, his claws digging up the ground! *Its tormenting them..... Dangerous!* he thought.
"Stripe?" Manies blinked and saw only a dust cloud where Stripe had been. With legs tucked, he had rolled down the other side and hit the plain's floor running! Somehow he KNEW this was the one who attacked the red's parent..... and now it threatened his BROTHERS! One stood above the rest.......
*NO, Not Father Too!!* His hunt sight went COMPLETELY red! Getting closer, he noticed many healed spots on the green's shell....... * I WAS RIGHT!!!!*
The green was enjoying itself, it hadn't noticed a smaller, oddly marked and VERY angry weasel was almost flying over the ground at it!! A few of the victims noticed him though.....
"Another one!?.... But no one played the music box!" someone wimpered.
Hoborg remained calm, "Don't worry", he said, and caused a wall to form up from the ground between them and the green. He had planned to entrap the weasel till he saw the second one. Confused, the green looked around and saw too late the attacking newcomer! A battle scream, a leap, and the two beasts went slamming into the new wall, which cracked in several places!!!! Hoborg added more thickness to the barrier.
The element of surprise was Stripe's, but strength and experience was the green's! By the time Gni arrived (with Manies hanging on tight) Stripe was down and the green was trying to injure him! Stripe saw the boomstick just in time and managed to roll away, the Green was still too close and the explosion lifted it off its claws! Dazed and shaken, it decided to go elsewhere.........
When all was quiet, Hoborg "melted" the wall back into the ground. The plains area was a mess! Gnimen and Stripe stood amid ruined picnick rubble. Forgetting himself, Stripe hobbled towards the group.
*Is everyone alright?* he growled. [Oops!]
His brothers moved away fearfully behind the king who raised his arm, preparing to entrap THIS one......
"NO!" Manies yelled , running forward and grabbing his father's arm!
"Manies?! Where have you been?!" the king asked, still watching the two weasels.
Stripe tried to adopt a less threatening posture, he bellied down and rested his claws on the ground..... [see? I'm not dangerous]
As Manies explained, the others crowded around the two. There were some who've only heard about the last time "someone" drank the weasel juice, now they took advantage for some close up looks and short rides on their backs.
Hoborg called the two former Hoodians over. At the stern tone in his voice, they approached and folded their legs,claws crossed in front of themselves. For Stripe, this took pressure off a tender limb or two, and for both of them, well, it didn't seem right to be looking down on Hoborg........
"I don't know that I approve of people drinking this weasel juice..... didn't you learn anything from Doodles?"
Manies cleared his throat to get the king's attention. "Uh,... Sir? Gnimen did it for needed research and Stripe....... uh....." He couldn't think of anything to say in his friend's defense.
Addressing all three, he continued, "We will discuss this at length...... when you two turn back. That will be soon, won't it?" Worry could be heard creeping into the king's voice.
Gnimen timidly stretched out a claw *Scratch scratch *
He read Gni's answer.... "A few days at least? I want you to have an extra day to recover, then come and see me the next morning."
It was odd seeing two weasels humbled before a creature smaller than themselves. Hoborg then stood in front of Stripe.
[Oh NO! He'll.... He'll put me in jail..... or WORSE, I know it!!] An almost inaudible whine came from behind his teeth.
"In spite of all this..... you DID save us, and we are now aware of the rogue Green. Thank you, son." And he patted one of the upper jaws.
"But I still want to speak to you both after you've recovered...... understand?"
"And you WILL be with them, Manies, yes?"
"Yes, Sir." He bowed his head, out of respect, shame and a sense of impending doom.......
The king left and the others cleaned up the area. Manies managed to get some undamaged chip buttys and tossed them to his friends. They vanished into the great tri-jawed mouths and were swallowed gratefully!
Inspite of the warnings to fear and avoid these creatures, all that transpired was witnessed by a pair of eyes peeking over the ridgetop. He couldn't help it! The little two legged ones facinated him! One made rock to come up out of the ground, and the two legged one who stayed with them (at a distance) while he grew up, had caused bright light and sound to scare the Green one! THAT Green was friend to no one! Thus the little creatures down there and the Red had something in common. Seeing that the ones who raised him were safe, the Red turned..... he was truly on his own now, but he was ready.
They stayed in the plains area for a few more days, going off to hunt now and then, and everyone enjoyed the pond... though lookouts had to be posted, after all, other weasels have to drink too.
*ShOUld'NT wE BE CHangEd bY nOw?* Stripe scratched to Gni.
*coUlD BE sOon.* he answered.
That wasn't too comforting.
Another two days would pass before they woke up one morning...... it felt like all their energy had been drained!
"They're awake!" Someone shouted.
"UNnnnnnn.... Don't..... yell." Stripe groaned.... then popped an eye open. *Was that ME?* he thought, then brought a claw up to his eyes..... no..... a HAND!
He closed his eyes and felt someone helping him to sit up. Opening both eyes again, his vision was filled with a pair of hands holding a tall glass of water and a bowl of food. "Here, get something in your stomach and drink lots of water..... that was my mistake..."
Stripe looked up and focused....."Do-o-o-dl-l-es?"
Doodles smiled. "I'm here pal, just let us help you two home."
"Thanks." he said weakly.
*UNnnnnnnngggghhhhhh!* Stripe woke to the morning sounds and a refreshing breeze comming in the doorway. He stretched and sat up.
"What an odd dream! I HAVE to tell Manies and Gni about *this*!" He giggled as he imagined what their expressions would look like when he described Gni as a weasel!
In the common grounds, several people greeted him....... nothing unusual in that, but they just seemed overly happy to see him, almost as if they were relieved. "Stripe!"........ "How you doing?!"....... "Feeling better?"............ "Had us worried!"
He looked at his brothers blankly. "What do you mean? I've never felt better, and why would you be worried? It's not *that* long since first daylight."...........?
"Don't you remember?" one asked.
"You've been sleeping for four days!" another added.
"This is a joke.... yes?" He searched their faces hopefully...... their seriousness answered his question. "Then........... it really *happened*....... the juice..... me,Gnimen and Manies......... the weasel ?!"
They all nodded at once.
"Hoborg will be wanting to speak with you three tomorrow morning..... he asked us to remind you."
Dazed, he answered, "Uh, thanks........ I uh,... I'm going for a walk......."
They understood and left him to himself.
He wandered into the plains area. Evidence of damage could still be faintly seen....
"Everything actually happened!" he said to himself, then he remembered...... "The red weaseling!" he glanced around quickly, hoping to catch sight of it....... nothing.
*I hope it's doing OK.* he thought as he went to see how Gnimen was doing.
At the foot of the bridgesteps, he found Gnimen..... not in the Radar House, but out by the Drain! He had a bucket of water, a glass, a small soft cloth and a funny little brush. He was kneeling at the edge, spitting out mouthfulls of water. He didn't look well!
"Gni? Are you alright?"
*UNn-n-n-ng-g-g?* He looked up.
"What's wrong, you look awful!"
Gnimen started to mumble as he filled the glass from the bucket again and took another mouthful of water. "All those KlayBirds.... FawSheep..... Mice....."
"And Bugs." Stripe was just tying to help. He had no idea what Gni was going on about.
Gnimen looked up, turned a sickly green and spat forcefully into the drain! He wiped his mouth off with the cloth and continued to scrub the brush around on his teeth.
"Oo-o-o-h-h-h!" Stripe suddenly realised..... "That's right, you don't eat meat!....... Sorry Gni."
Gni waved a dismissive hand at him. "S'all right", he said around the brush, "Be OK later."
He grabbed the glass and rinsed his mouth out again. The bucket was almost empty.
Still kneeling, he said, "I've read over the notes Manies made for me..... I can't believe I.... did what I did!" He shuddered.
"You did what you did because you weren't YOU at the time."
"You're right...... but it's just the thought of..... you know how much I like animals."
Stripe nodded. *Poor Gni, it will take him a while to get over THIS!*
He helped Gni back to the Radar House, then together they started organizing the note pile. They didn't make much progress since they would stop and read, trying to remember past events. After lunch, Stripe just wandered around, deep in thought. "Now what'll I do? I'm back where I started." Though he felt he should be happy about what they did, a familar emptyness settled inside him again.
Morning seemed to arrive sooner than expected......................
Hoborg sat and rubbed his forehead for a moment as he looked down on the three offenders. Yes, he loved and cared for his sons... ALL of them. It's just that....... every once in a while...... well... they would test even QUATER'S patience!
The three stood, hands held behind their backs, heads down.
"Does anyone have something they would like to say?" He kept his voice calm, wouldn't do to upset them any more, they knew why they were here.
Stripe glanced up briefly and spoke..... "I found a red baby weasel. It was hurt and I believed its parent to be killed or run off... it was so helpless. I couldn't just..... *leave* it."
"So you took it to Gnimen?" Stripe nodded, eyes to the floor. The king now had a link as to how Gni got involved.
"He brought it to me and I helped to heal it.... I also had a chance to test a theory I had."
Hoborg sat forward...... this should be interesting! "And this theory was........?" he asked.
"What effects the weasel juice actually has on the crabs."
"And your findings?"
"It seems to help them heal faster....... and grow a bit, too. But I've given it a weak solution of mutagen, growth and healing rates had been speeded up... in it's natural state the effects of the juice would've taken much longer."
"How much of this juice is left?"
"We used the last of it. If there IS more, I don't know about it."
Sitting back, the king thought for a moment. "Hmmmmmm........ When Doodles turned back, HE couldn't remember a lot of what happened, how do YOU remember your findings?"
"We.... asked Manies..... to...... go with us."
Manies raised a hand. "I took notes as Gnimen scratched them in the ground."
"And at the same time, you'd be protecting them from being boomed up, yes?"
And that's how Manies got included! Very logical, my sons. "But why turn *yourselves* into crabs?"
Gni raised *his* hand. "Only a weasel can teach a baby weasel how to hunt and what to eat...... since I've studied them I taught Stripe what to do."
"And Stripe was changed why?"
"The baby trusted me, saw me as its parent."
Hoborg now understood. "I know you had noble reasons for your actions, but like I told Keeno, come and talk to me before you do something so dangerous!" Then he added more quiet, "There may have been another way......" There was no mistaking the hurt in his voice. "Anything could've happened and noone would've known because you *told* noone."
They hadn't thought of that! They cringed, looking more miserable.
"I believe I know you three well enough, that if you got *another* chance to do such a thing, you would. I just hope you will consider the risks! One day you might not turn back." Hoborg sat up straight.
*Here it comes....* Their glances at each other seemed to convey a common thought..... *Been nice knowing everyone!*
"You three are forbidden to leave the common grounds for a month. Manies, you can still boom weasels, you just can't go into the plains, get someone to help you if you need it."
Everyone seemed to like to explore, though some more than others, but Hoborg knew his sons.... and he knew this rather "light -seeming" punishment would affect them, and make them think.
The three winced. Confined to the common grounds! Well, it coulda been worse. They would be VERY limited, the only thing worse would have been told to stay in their homes for a month..... No , jail was true punishment!
The thought to disobey their Father's orders never crossed their minds.
The king, having proclaimed their sentence, dismissed them. "You may go..... Stripe, I would like to speak to you a moment."
Stripe turned back and stood as he had before. Hoborg waited till they were alone.
*Yes, I know the air of sadness around you, but Oh no my son, we will not go through *this* again!* Hoborg thought and chuckled to himself. The king rose and stepped down, keeping one hand behind his back.
Stripe who hadn't looked up never saw that his father was hiding something. He felt the king's arm accross his sholders. "Son, I'm sure you will miss the crabling you saved..... even though it *was* a..... crab, but you know it's for the best."
"And now you feel lonely again yes?"
"Can you talk about it?"
"Well, Tramen fixes things, Keeno is chemist, Gnimen helps and studies the plants and animals, Manies protects us from weasels......" he trailed off.
"You are wrong in thinking that you're not needed..... Knowing Gnimen and his notes, he'll need help to organise them, and I believe he could use an extra pair of hands when he is gathering samples.... Hm?"
Stripe looked up and Hoborg could see a new sparkle in his eyes as the idea sank in.
"Also, something else will be needing you too....."
His face became puzzled at the sound of humor in his father's voice, and he watched as the King brought his hand around and held it open in front of Stripe's eyes. A smooth, cream-brown colored rock nestled safely in the wide palm.
"A stone?" He glanced at Hoborg, then back at the stone when a faint *tik* was heard. He looked closer and saw a fine line had formed.
The line broke into many cracks that spread over the stone's surface. Finally it crumbled and amid the pieces was a wriggling, floppy baby......
"FrencheeBug!" Stripe quietly breathed, not wanting to frighten it. Not dareing to hope, he looked up at his Father.
"When I went to close the hole in the cliff, I found the remains of a nest of these. All the others had already hatched and left.... this was the only one that was still there", he said, also keeping his voice quiet. "You wouldn't happen to know of someone who would be able to care for it.........?" he teased, knowing full well what his son's answer would be!
The bug looked at Stripe, clicked its tiny mouthparts and struggled towards him. Stripe carefully picked the tangle of legs out of the shards of the shell and held it close. It snuggled closer, enjoying the warmth, and made odd little chittering noises. Hoborg stepped back and saw how happy his son was!
"I think it's hungry... better see to it." At the doorway Stripe turned. "Thanks Father", he said happily.
"Oh, and son?"
Adopting his most stern voice and shaking his finger at Stripe, Hoborg replied, "Now don't even THINK about turning into a tick!"
Shock gave way to a giggle as Stripe knew he was being teased. "I understand, no more changes for ME."
With that he left.
The King sighed, smiling to himself, "Between a new "baby" to care for and helping Gnimen, he won't have a chance to feel he's not needed for a lo-o-o-o-o-ong time!" Chuckeling, Hoborg turned back to the business of running his kingdom.
It had been quite a long time since anyone had mentioned the Red Weasel. (He never named it for fear of becoming too attached.) Stripe had left his pet FrencheeBug Klinger play in the big spikey tree today, while he cataloged some plants near the MushRoom. Thus he was quite busy with notes and samples, not noticing till too late, a scrabbeling noise announced the presense of a weasel! It pulled itself over the edge of the nearby cliff and focused on him! It was a big GREEN crab! It bore spots on its shell of old wounds that have long healed... Stripe KNEW this one!!
Ve-e-e-e-er-r-r-r-y slowly he backed towards the archway.
It circled, trying to block the archway and pin its prey against the nearby cliff base.
Oh, how he tried, but there was no dodging this monster! Some pebbles moved under a foot and Stripe fell backwards, a claw blurred and sliced the air with a savage *SNAP!* where he had just been!
The beast bellowed out a victory howl!
Stripe lay pinned against the wall, on his side he pulled his knees up and covered his head with his hands, braced for the obvious! He felt some rocks fall on him from above and he peeked through his fingers and saw a chunk of rock had seperated from the wall and cast a shadow as it fell.
"Eaten or crushed, what a choice!" *Quater! I'm not ready......!* he wimpered. He never finished his thought as he closed his eyes and gritted his teeth in the last few seconds.......!!
The ground trembled...... dust was raised........ and Stripe.................... poor Stripe was....................
was wondering why he was still alive!! Uncovering his head he had a sideways view of the world. He was in the shadow of something......... HUGE!
He lay, surrounded by four supports, each one was two arm-lengths away. A deep rumbling sound that could be felt through the air as well as the ground began, the source of it being directly above...........!
The rumble increased and Stripe realized that a very, VERY large weasel was standing over him and it was growling! It's underbelly just within reach. (If the thought to actually reach up and touch the belly had occured to him.)
The green bully weasle had a different view! An intruder was standing over HIS food!! A challenge was screamed at the newcomer!
The answering *!RRO-O-A-AR!* in all its fury bowled the green one over several times!!
*If I don't get killed, I'll be deaf!* Stripe thought, plugging his ears. He could see, and almost laughed out loud as the Green tried to untangle itself and run at the same time! It was then that he realized that he was now at the mercy of THIS brute! He curled up again.
The mass moved from above him and turned around.
*Eeerrrrruuuufffffff?* it uttered quietly.
The faint *snip* of a closing claw was heard, and for its size, it made as little sound as possible as it aproached him.
*This is IT!* and he gritted his teeth.
A claw almost the length of his arm, gently pushed at him.
*Staystillstaystillstaystillstaystill* Kept running through his head!
It moved around him, gently touching, poking,.... but seeing no movement, it started to whine.
Still amazed that he had survived this long, Stripe looked up and gasped. "It CAN'T be........... YOU?!"
He happily stood up and was knocked down again as a big pink tongue swashed against him!
"EEEeeeeewwwwwww! I didn't need that!" He wiped drool off as best he could.
Smiling, he gave the deadly snout a grateful hug! "Thank You!"
The creature instantly collapsed and leaned over so the top of its head could be reached easier. It closed its eyes.
"How funny that something like YOU is rendered helpless in such a way!" He laughed at the thrumming animal. After a bit he patted the upper jaws, "MY how you've grown! I've got to tell Gnimen about this! So this is YOUR territory now? I'll make sure NOone plays the music box here."
*Neeerrraaak* The Red stood, (!) and as big as it was, gave Stripe a gentle nudge, and lumbered past, climbing up the cliff wall. Stripe would swear to this day, that he saw the Red, joined by two little red weaslings at the cliff top!
He smiled. "Seems it's doing just fine!"
Sure, he'd miss the "great walking boulder", but life goes on, and now HE's found a purpose! In helping Gnimen in his animal and plant studies, he organized the endless notes, thus becoming the NeverHood's first book-keeper! (What did Doodles say they were called in his world?...... "Li-br-air-ee-uns"?)
Hoborg had been asked, and he obliged, by forming shelves and benches from the walls around the radio room. Anyone wanting to study, or get questions answered, could do so. Plus, Stripe had now another baby who needed him. Klaybugs take longer to grow, and this one will be with him for a long time.
He headed back. Full of wonderful feelings he thought to himself, *Yes, I WOULD do it again.*